A Life That Reflects a “Passion for Inclusion”
Jason Sand always assumed he would attend a CUNY college like both his parents and follow in his mother’s footsteps to become a public high school English teacher.
Things didn’t work out exactly that way. An honors grad of Cardozo High School, Sand enrolled at QC--“a foregone conclusion in my family,” he says--but “didn’t have the maturity then” and dropped out to work as a Honda automotive technician for several years.
But Sand knew he wanted more from life. So he took a job as a paraprofessional with the NYC Department of Education (D.O.E.). “I got connected with a new pilot program in Queens called Inclusion,” he says, explaining that this approach supports individuals with special needs in a general education setting, where they learn alongside their nondisabled peers.
“My passion has always been inclusion,” says Sand, an assistant principal who has had a career of 27 years and counting with D.O.E. Special Education. “I feel that with the right supports we can teach each student to be as independent as possible and ensure they have access to their communities.”
While still a paraprofessional, Sand supported the inclusion program at the Louis Armstrong Middle School and later piloted it at Bayside High School. As a “para,” he also took advantage of the U.F.T.–CUNY Leap to Teacher program that brought him back to campus. With the guidance of staff at the Center for Worker Education at QC, part of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute, Sand earned his BA, enrolling in evening, weekend, and distance learning courses. During this time, he began the first community-based pre-vocational training for the inclusion program at Bayside, linking up with LEAP at QC to establish the on-campus training site.
“Over the six years I was a paraprofessional, I connected with my students and their families. I felt the need to serve and support--and still feel it’s my role to create new opportunities for students with special needs,” he says.
After earning a master’s in special education, Sands could truly inhabit that role. For 27 years he has worked for the citywide District 75, which serves up to 25,000 special needs students in all five boroughs. “With the support of LEAP, my former QC instructors, and Dr. Chris Rosa, CUNY interim vice chancellor of student affairs, we created an inclusive higher education pre-vocational training site at QC. It was not only the first for the D.O.E. but for the country,” he says proudly. Participating students, who had severe and multiple disabilities, worked in many campus locations, making photocopies and deliveries, shelving books, filing, etc. They also had the chance to get involved with student clubs.
In addition, Sand brought inclusive education into his alma mater’s classrooms, beginning with the LEAP program. Since 1999 each semester up to 24 special ed students aged 18–21 join their nondisabled peers as unofficial auditors in a variety of courses such as music, art, Spanish, literature, and urban studies. He considers the inclusive ed program at QC his “biggest and longest lasting professional success thus far.”
Appointed assistant principal at a District 75 School in East Harlem serving students 14–21 years of age, Sand had many responsibilities, including ensuring a safe environment. During his six-year tenure, he significantly reduced aggressive and violent incidents--his certification from Cornell University in school crisis intervention made the difference, along with an excellent team. As assistant principal at District 75’s Nathanael Greene School in Brooklyn since 2016, he oversees a new program site that helps students with autism and intellectual disabilities from kindergarten through third grade.
“The late Matt Sapolin, my dear friend and Mayor Bloomberg’s disabilities commissioner, said there were approximately 58.6 million people with diagnosed disabilities in the U.S. today,” Sand says. “So they are our family, friends, and neighbors. We must embrace and support all people to help one another succeed.”
Even with his hectic, challenging career--“I get by with a lot of coffee,” he laughs--
Sand has taught as an adjunct in QC’s Education Division for 15 years. “As a student, graduate, teacher, adjunct, and advocate, Queens College is a huge part of who I am today,” he says. “I’m very proud of what Queens has done for me, and I in turn would like to continue to give back.”